Kansas in line for $350 million for highways

Kansas is in line to get about $350 million from the federal government to spend on highway construction projects in the coming months to produce jobs, generate economic development and boost services, state officials said Friday.

The incoming funds would go along with another $27 million in federal stimulus money dedicated for transit projects in the state, they said. Of the transit total, $1.9 million would be set aside for the city of Lawrence.

Just last week, the city unveiled a list of potential transit projects that included $1.5 million for replacing five buses, $500,000 for installing new bus shelters and up to $3 million for creating bus “cut outs” on city streets.

“I think it’s going to do a lot for our system, and the economy,” said Casey Toomay, the city’s interim transit administrator.

Decisions about exactly which Lawrence projects should be financed and when likely will be settled in the coming weeks, as details emerge about program requirements, deadlines and eligibility standards.

State officials aren’t wasting any time, either.

By the end of next week, the Kansas Department of Transportation hopes to announce which of its dozens of eligible projects will share in $280 million of stimulus money. Department officials, in consultations with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, will be culling a list of $1.3 billion worth of available projects, a list that includes two projects with Douglas County potential:

l $10 million to build an interchange at the South Lawrence Trafficway and Bob Billings Parkway in Lawrence.

l $100 million to add two lanes to six miles of Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence, either in Douglas or Johnson counties.

“We all need to hit the ground running,” said Jerry Younger, an assistant secretary of transportation in Topeka. “We need to get things chugging along pretty quick.”

The money is part of the compromise $787 billion federal economic stimulus bill that was approved Friday by the U.S. House of Representatives, then a few hours later by the Senate.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law within the next few days.

Of the $350 million headed to Kansas for highway spending, an estimated 20 percent — or nearly $70 million — would be designated for use in communities. The Kansas City metro area would receive $22 million; the Wichita area would receive $16 million; and all other Kansas communities would share about $30 million.

All federal stimulus money for transportation must be spent within a year.

Deb Miller, the state’s transportation secretary, said that her department likely would set a deadline of Nov. 1 for local projects to be selected and under way.

That way, she said, any chosen projects facing insurmountable obstacles could be pushed aside, making way for other projects to get going before the federal deadline passed.

“We want to be sure the state spends every single dollar” available, Miller said.